Why aren’t people fed up with barbarians at the gate and the enemy within? Six years ago I thought public opinion in the West had awakened to the Islamist threat. Today we mostly seem to have gone back to sleep. Our enemies attribute it to terminal decadence. I say one more major terror attack in North America will bring us to a snapping point.
The claim that we’ve gone too soft to have any snap left, sadly, requires an answer. I’m not too concerned about academics who say we don’t deserve to win, journalists who say we can’t win and judges and other government officials who don’t seem to care. Intellectuals have always been like that, with less immediate effect than they suppose. What does worry me is the answer you’d get today to FDR’s astonished question about the Japanese after Pearl Harbor: “What kind of people do they think we are?” Are Canadians and Americans still who we turned out to be in the 1940s? Or do modern youth see Iran’s public humiliation of British captives as just one more cool weird meaningless thing on YouTube?
I acknowledge with sorrow Mark Steyn’s point about Western demographic decline and accompanying spiritual malaise. Except in the U.S., church attendance in the West has collapsed since 1950, and people who don’t believe in anything are unlikely to fight for it. And how can we understand Islamist views when Sir Elton John proposes a blanket ban on religion and then celebrates his 60th birthday in an Anglican cathedral?
There is, as Adam Smith once said, a great deal of ruin in a nation. We seem to have indulged in a lot of it. But you can’t be sure what will happen if we get mad unless we do. And right now we’re not.
Our frustrating somnolence must be attributed, in large part, to the sheer ineptitude of the Islamist menace. Newspapers may publish a steady stream of stories about terrorist “masterminds” now in custody, but most are idiots who couldn’t blow their legs off with their shoes full of explosives. There has been no real follow-up to 9/11.
Yes, there were the Madrid train bombing and 7/7 in Britain. And there’s a chronic insurgency in France’s 751 “Sensitive urban zones”. But Iraq’s civilian-slaughtering insurgents are no Viet Cong. There’s been nothing else in the U.S., nothing spectacular in France and nothing here at all. Most people outside Israel see jihadis as comic-opera villains; even Iran’s bizarre, coerced confessions from British soldiers prompt comparisons with Borat not Stalin. Things will be different if Islamists start causing real harm on a regular basis.
Back in 2001, a majority of Canadians outside Quebec said they would sacrifice some civil liberties to fight terror. I doubt they’d say so today; it doesn’t look necessary. A few bombs in Canadian cities and you’d get very different answers.
Ordinary people tend to have better gut instincts than intellectuals, especially in these decadent times. Already there are signs of change. For instance, when’s the last time feminists made a noticeable contribution to public discussion? Right. Sunera Thobani denouncing American foreign policy immediately after 9/11. Such views may still dominate academia. But a movement that spent years denouncing aggressive patriarchal religions in warlike cultures, then sided with the Taliban against George W. Bush, won instant gold in the credibility toss.
Quebec opinion seems to have moved most sharply. Public outrage forced a hasty U-turn by electoral officials on whether veiled women could vote without showing their faces. Muslim spokespeople claimed victimization and denied, absurdly, that women might refuse to unveil before a man. Almost no one took them seriously, partly because one of the Muslims who went to Hérouxville for a “dialogue” about that town’s famous code of conduct was found to have written a pro-veil poem that called old-stock Quebecers drunken infidel sluts (the key verse, “si toi immigrante de souche/ Tu n’as ni foi ni loi/ Et tu as passée ta jeunesse soule/ D’un mâle à un autre/ Ce n’est pas mon cas” was widely publicized on the Internet). Worse, this “female” perspective was written by a Muslim man.
Even in Ontario things are slowly changing. When a Muslim art student whined that she couldn’t pass a course involving drawing nudes because unlike infidels she wouldn’t do it, then accused the University of Western Ontario of inflexibility, she was told firmly they don’t waive the rules for conservative Christians either.
All this has happened in a quiet interlude. Imagine the change after another serious act of terror in North America. Journalists would stop reflexively calling Fatah “moderate”. Honour killings would get more, and more unfavourable, coverage. Maclean’s wouldn’t splash Osama bin Laden on their front cover, wish him “Happy 50th, Osama”, and gloat that he “terrorizes us still” and can’t be beaten. Columnists wouldn’t mock Senator Colin Kenny’s warnings. The press might adopt equally unreflective habits on the other side. Or they might ask penetrating questions about our supposed allies, the Saudi guardians of Mecca and Medina. But they would certainly stop portraying us as facing inevitable defeat from cunning foes. Readers would insist on it.
Whether things would change much within academia I’m not so certain. But it is two generations since universities even seemed to matter intellectually. And I am convinced politicians would also start taking far more seriously the primary duty of the state to preserve public order against domestic insurrection and foreign attack. Even courts would stop coddling terror suspects. The public would force them to.
In fact, as one who dislikes the sound of social fabric rending, I have long worried that given another major attack within North America the tone of civil discussion could become markedly less civil. Certainly the too-common “Muslim spokesman” pose of belligerent self-pity, already annoying to those of us who care about such things, would get short shrift from the public. It is very important for moderate Muslims to speak out now, as some have been doing, before it just sounds like evasive expediency.
Today it is mostly fringe figures like Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali who say the veil oppresses women or cite Sura 4, verse 34 of the Koran (“as to those [women] on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them and leave them alone in the sleeping places and beat them”). But such things are on many people’s minds, and if we do pass that snapping point will be on their tongues as well. There will be no more good cop bad cop, in which Muslim spokesmen denounce proposals to outlaw glorifying terror as anti-Muslim although of course Muslims don’t glorify terror. Instead radical Muslims will be told we don’t live under shari’a law and piecemeal demands to implement it infuriate us.
Consider a recent poll saying 82 per cent of Muslims had “no sympathy” for Islamist acts of terror allegedly planned for the Toronto area. As Salim Mansur just noted in Western Standard, citing Licia Corbella of the Calgary Sun, even the large margin of error in this fairly small poll left a minimum of 50,000 Canadians who took a different view. If such attitudes prevailed in any other sector of the populace people would be stunned and furious. If a major Islamist atrocity occurs here they are liable to start asking who let so many terror sympathizers in, and why.
The main reason we’re not there yet is that the Islamists and their Western sympathizers, though violent and arrogant, have proven largely ineffectual. In the lives of individuals, especially if they follow public affairs closely, straws can break camels’ backs. But to move broad public opinion requires bales of hay. It took the Munich Pact to awaken much of the West to the reality of the Nazi threat, and the Fall of France or even Pearl Harbor to bring all but hopeless morons out of their stupor. On Stalinism, it took the Nazi-Soviet Pact, then a series of aggressive post-war acts culminating in the Berlin Blockade, to put the “snap” into Orwell’s 1984.
So far we’ve been lucky with Islamism, 9/11 aside. But let there be bombings in Ottawa or Outremont, or even Los Angeles, and things will really change. As I did in the Ottawa Citizen on September 12, 2001, I give the final word to Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy, after Pearl Harbor: “I fear we have only awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.”